Microbiology Society and MiSAC: 50 years of mutualism

Issue: Natural Products and Drug Discovery

05 November 2019 article

In the 1960s the major professional biological societies became aware of an increased need in schools for support for the teaching of specialist aspects of biology in response to marked changes in curricula brought about by new developments such as Nuffield Biology. The response by the Microbiology Society (then named the Society for General Microbiology) was to organise a symposium from which arose a joint committee – the Microbiology in Schools Advisory Committee (MiSAC) – in 1969, consisting of representatives of the Microbiology Society and other organisations with experience of and interest in school education.

Following my appointment as the Microbiology Society representative on MiSAC in 1973, the associated activities between the two organisations began to flourish. I held the role as Microbiology Society representative until 1994, having become Chairman of MiSAC in 1983. Over this time, the activities of MiSAC were markedly reinforced by the appointment of Janet Hurst, a microbiologist with administration and writing experience, to the Microbiology Society staff. Janet became MiSAC Secretary in 1991, with support later from Dariel Burdass, a then new staff colleague who was also a microbiologist. The Microbiology Society also undertook administration of the MiSAC Annual Competition and provided space on the Society web server until MiSAC developed its own website.

Among the early contributions made by MiSAC was involvement in several revisions of the Microbiology Society schools booklet Careers in Microbiology. Encouraged by the growth in schools’ activities, the Microbiology Society made funds available in 1983 for a Schoolteacher Fellow to produce practical activities, in a project directed by MiSAC to which Paul Wymer was appointed to work with me in the Department of Microbiology at Reading University. The major outcome of the project, the publication Practical Microbiology and Biotechnology for Schools, led the then Department of Trade and Industry to provide funds in 1985 to establish the National Centre for Biotechnology Education (NCBE) at Reading, where it still operates. With support from MiSAC and NCBE, the Microbiology Society also developed practical courses for teachers, technicians and postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE) students. These became a significant activity whereby John Schollar of NCBE and myself delivered some 100 such courses throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the first decade of the 2000s. Other notable collaborations with MiSAC were the Microbiology Society publications Practical Microbiology for Secondary Schools (2002) and Basic Practical Microbiology: A Manual (2003).

Group of MiSAC governing members

In recent years, the Microbiology Society representative on MiSAC was drawn from Society staff, but is now again a role open to Society members, with the representative also being part of the Society Communications Committee. Rachel Exley was appointed to the position in 2018 and has quickly become very involved, including joining Margaret Whalley, MiSAC colleague and a member of the British Mycological Society, as co-editor of MiSAC matters: 50th Anniversary Articles (misac.org.uk).Several Microbiology Society members have contributed to this celebratory publication, including Sir Paul Nurse and President Professor Judith Armitage.

This year MiSAC celebrates its 50th anniversary. The close coincidence with Microbiology Society’s 75th anniversary next year is well worth recording, because of both the key role that the Microbiology Society played in the formation of MiSAC in 1969, and the many ways in which a long-lasting and close association developed between the two organisations to support the future of microbiology.

John Grainger

[email protected]

MiSAC sponsors

British Mycological Society


Microbiology Society

National Centre for Biotechnology Education

Quekett Microscopical Club

Scottish Schools Education Research Centre

Image: Cutting the celebratory cake to mark the 100th MiSAC committee meeting, July 2008. Right to left: Janet Hurst (then Secretary) and current officers Margaret Whalley (Treasurer), John Tranter (Secretary), John Grainger (Chairman, centre) and John Schollar (Vice-Chairman, extreme left). MiSAC.